New data shows increasing homelessness prior to COVID-19

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | September 28, 2020 | Social
Advocates fear numbers may have increased since the pandemic

During brunch at St. John’s Soup Kitchen in Newark volunteers and staff bag sandwiches and snacks.

Peter Dobbs, the director of the soup kitchen, says when the pandemic first hit, the amount of people coming for a hot meal went up drastically.

“From 500 meals a day to 800,” he said. “It jumped really quickly because I guess people were unemployed and we were seeing faces we’ve never seen before.”

Data from the night of Jan. 28, when volunteers did a pre-pandemic count, shows that the state was already seeing more homeless people than the prior year.

According to Monarch Housing, they counted 9,663 homeless men, women and children — up 799 people, or 9%, from 2019.

A total of 7,877 people were in shelters, up 6% from 2019, and 1,786 people were living on the streets, up 21% from 2019.

But during the pandemic, those numbers could be exponentially greater than they were during the count in January.

“I think there’s a lot of stimulus money that’s coming into communities that communities are really working to strategically plan to prevent any kind of influx,” said Kasey Congero of Monarch Housing Associates. “We really are dependent on future money coming into the communities to be able to combat this crisis. It’s only going to get worse when the eviction moratorium ends.”

Dobbs says it’s now slowed down and they’re back to seeing their usual 400 or so people.

“I ask them, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. Everything well?’ ‘Oh yeah, I’m in a hotel.’ That’s what they’ll say, I’m like no kidding. They get a room, television, shower, air conditioning, heat and it’s a very nice project,” Dobbs said. “Newark has done a wonderful job of quarantining. I don’t know how long it’ll last because obviously it’s subsidized by the stimulus package.”

That uncertainty is one of the reasons Quadir Sharif comes to St. John’s every day. He waits in line for a hot meal, but not for himself. He gives the meals to a homeless man who has trouble walking.

“He doesn’t ask anybody for anything. He just sits there minding his business,” he said. “And I said, ‘Are you hungry?’ He said, ‘Yes.'”

Since then, he’s been making the trip every day for two months so at least one of the thousands of homeless men and women can eat.

Sharif was homeless once so he understands what it’s like to be on the streets.

“I had 20 years of bad, now I’ve got 41 years of good,” he said. “I was taught to care, and share and treat people the way you want to be treated.”